Nursing home deaths: Investigators won’t say exactly why two bodies were exhumed last week
Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer. (File photo)
A British expert says it makes little sense to exhume bodies in the case of a former Southwestern Ontario nurse accused of serial murder if investigators are looking for evidence of insulin overdoses.
Insulin, naturally produced by the body but given in a synthetic form to treat diabetes, has been a central theme in the case of accused former long-term care nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer. She faces eight counts of first-degree murder, four of attempted murder and two of aggravated assault involving Southwestern Ontarians at three nursing homes and one private residence.
Since the first charges were laid last fall, there’ve been hints insulin may have been involved in the case.
Before she was charged, Wettlaufer, 49, had been banned from possessing insulin as part of an unusual peace bond while police investigated.
In a police search warrant obtained by The London Free Press, used last fall in the investigation that led to the four attempted murder charges laid last month, police alleged insulin overdoes were involved.
Vincent Marks, an expert in criminal cases, who co-wrote the book Insulin Murders:True Life Cases, said he was shocked to hear that two bodies — one from a death three years ago, and the other six years ago — had been exhumed in the Wettlaufer case last week.
Ontario Provincial Police, in charge of the investigation, haven’t revealed what investigators were looking for.
“The exhumations are necessary to allow the Ontario forensic pathology service to perform an autopsy and collect evidence,” a spokesperson for London police, who were helping the OPP, said following the exhumations.
Marks, a biochemist with a speciality in low blood sugars, said “certainly, there is no possibility (of finding insulin) after this time.”
“I thought you might tell me they were up to a year old,” he said of the deaths, in an interview from England.
“Insulin would be extremely difficult to find even if the bodies were 10 days old, but after this length of time there’s just no remote possibility.”
Two weeks ago, the body of Arpad Horvath, 75, who died in April 2014 was exhumed in London.
In Innerkip, the body of Helen Matheson, 95, who died in October 2011, was exhumed.
Both people had been living in long-term care homes — Horvath at Meadow Park nursing home in London, and Matheson at Caressant Care in Woodstock.
Wettlaufer is accused in the deaths of six others at the Woodstock home, along with the attempted murder there of two others and aggravated assaults against two elderly sisters.
The other attempted murder charges involve a woman at Telfer Place long-term care home in Paris, and a woman in Oxford County.
In search warrants, there were indications the investigation started after Wettlaufer had been admitted to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health and the Toronto police had been contacted by a psychiatrist.
Also, the charge sheets in the attempted murder allegations specifically reference the administration of insulin as the suspected mechanism used.
But Marks was clear that looking for spikes in insulin, an organic material, would be futile in the exhumed bodies.
“Organic chemicals like insulin would have been broken down by bacteria years and years ago,” he said. “I doubt that they’ll even find anything very anatomical.”
“The only thing I can imagine that anyone would want to get from the body would be if there was something like arsenic or one of the metals that couldn’t change.”
Metal compounds or poisons have never been hinted at in the Wettlaufer case.
Marks also suggested that the exhumations might be to check the bones for possible fractures or abnormalities that could corroborate any other evidence.
Marks said he’s also curious to know if the blood sugar levels in the people named in the case had been checked regularly while they were alive.
In the elderly and the sick, he said changes in blood sugar can have many causes, not just from insulin overdoses and could happen naturally.
He added that insulin poisoning “is such a very, very slow process — that’s why it’s a very bad way of killing people. It takes a long time.”
Wettlaufer is expected to make another court appearance in Woodstock court, by video, on Feb. 15.